Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

The “Better Half” episode of Lie to Me presented what was, on its face, a rather simple case in which Foster and Torres are asked to assist in the investigation of a murder within the rap music industry. The victim, Dante Edwards, a member of the group affiliated with rap star Little Sid, was shot and killed; the initial suspect is rival rapper, Caden, or a member of his group.

Background information on Caden reveals that his music is particularly violent and glorifies murder. When Torres and Foster arrive at Caden’s home, they comment on its size and affluence; when they present themselves for an interview with Caden, his cousin and deputy, “B,” tells them that Caden does not speak to the police because it would have a negative impact on his album sales and reputation within the rap community. However, Caden relents and grants an initial interview. The interview between Foster, Torres, law enforcement, and “B,” is fruitless in establishing a clear link between Caden and Dante’s death. Indeed, Torres detects genuine sadness from Caden when he discusses Dante and his death. It becomes apparent that Dante, Caden and “B” grew up together and there was not a real sense of animosity between Caden and Dante at the very least.

When footage of a purported confrontation between Caden, Little Sid, and their respective groups is reviewed by Torres and Loker, they notice that the facial expressions indicate that the argument is fake and speculate that the rivalry was created to increase attention and record sales. Further analysis of the confrontation tape, and Dante’s facial expressions on it, leads Torres and Loker to conclude that Dante was in fact a homosexual. This revelation makes Torres and Loker suspect that the murderer is in fact someone within Little Sid’s group, or Little Sid himself, since the lyrics of Little Sid’s songs are profoundly homophobic. Torres and the assigned police detective then pay a visit to Little Sid to question him. Little Sid tells Torres that he knew Dante was a homosexual and that he didn’t have a problem with it because Dante kept it quiet. When asked by Torres about his homophobic song lyrics and their relationship to Dante, Little Sid states: “I got records to sell. So if I have to hate, I’m gonna hate, but I got no problem with Dante doing his little Brokeback thing.” Upon further questioning regarding his violent lifestyle, Little Sid again explains that the guns and violent accoutrements associated with his image are for the sake of image alone and that he is an entertainer, not a criminal. However, Little Sid does reveal that Dante was about to leave his group and join Caden’s group.

This bit of information causes Torres, Foster and Loker to re-evaluate Caden and his group members as suspects in Dante’s death. Torres pays another visit to Caden’s home, and is barely able to get past “B” in order to see Caden. During their conversation, Torres deduces that Caden and Dante were in a romantic relationship. Caden admits this and then goes on to lament the fact that he was unable to attend Dante’s funeral because of the image he was trying to maintain. Ultimately, both Torres and Caden focus on “B” and his involvement in the murder. It is then that “B” admits he killed Dante because he was afraid that Dante and Caden would be “outed,” thereby ending Caden’s career. “B” attempts to justify Dante’s murder by reminding Caden of their rough childhoods and how far they had come because the image that they had crafted, an image which would not allow Caden to be identified as homosexual. The story concludes with Torres and Caden watching as “B” is put in a police car.

In this plotline, more than unexpected twists and turns emerge. Strikingly, we see characters that are caught between the world in which they have chosen to live - and which has made them famous and wealthy – and the world with which they identify personally. These characters are stuck in the middle because their true identities are deemed to be incompatible with the personalities they must adopt in order to be successful in a culture that has helped them out of difficult personal backgrounds and circumstances. This storyline demonstrates the realities of people caught in social worlds and norms that cause them to strike out against things they personally embrace and to allow – and even condone – violence as part of these norms. It also shows how parallel norms can exist and yet only one norm is recognized by people who feel threatened at the idea of acting outside of the mainstream norms.

The story of Caden, Dante, Little Sid, and their relationship to homophobia is one example of these dual normative relationships. For Caden and Dante, they must deny their true sexual identities and emotions because these identities and emotions are not publicly acceptable in the world in which they live. The cost to each of them would have been their careers and wealth, and, in Dante’s case, the cost was his life. Little Sid finds himself in a position where he glorifies homophobia within the rap culture through his songs – although he himself is not homophobic – in order to be successful within the norms and rules of the culture itself. There is no attempt to change the culture because of the comforts and identity it affords. The same can be seen in Little Sid’s statement that he is an entertainer and not at heart violent, but that he sings about violence and exemplifies it in his personal image and conduct in order to fit into the predominant culture associated with the rap music industry.

Through Caden, Dante and Little Sid’s embracing of this duality of public and private, one can see how many philosophies and norms of hatred are perpetuated in written and unwritten laws by people who otherwise do not espouse these same philosophies and norms. One also sees the personal difficulties experienced by those who are stuck in the middle of accepted norms and their own identities, and, especially in the case of Little Sid’s adoption of a violent and homophobic persona over his naturally artistic and tolerant personality, we can see the justifications which are made in order to continue being stuck in the middle.

For information on Lie to Me, see .

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